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Football Association should call Gary Neville's bluff and appoint him to its board
Published : 26 Sep 2009 16:07:30
So Gary Neville has ruled out another line of future employment. Along with ambassador for Liverpool Capital of Culture and tour guide on Moss Side, Manchester United’s spiky right-back now adds management to his list of things not to do after retirement. How sad. The wonderfully bolshie Neville would have turned the dugout into a trench with barbed-wire trimming. Explosions all round. Related Articles * Gary Neville comes clean * Stoke City 0 Manchester United 2 * Fletcher seeks fulfilment * Foster given vote of confidence * Sport on television As the pin goes back in the hand grenade, there must still be some way to retain Neville’s unique services within football. Rather like Arlene Phillips, Moira Stuart or the latest Titian offloaded by a tax-hit landowner, Gary Alexander Neville needs to be saved for the nation. Now 34, Neville admits that the end looms, that any more injuries will terminate a momentous career embracing eight titles, two Champions Leagues, 85 caps and a week of anarchy when he tried to organise a strike by England players. But what next? He will always have Bury FC, the club where his affable parents Neville and Jill have selflessly toiled, while United will doubtless offer him some role (probably not in PR). Management? “I have to say it doesn’t interest me,’’ Neville informed Michael Vaughan in Saturday’s Telegraph Sport, although he did slip in the get-out subclause of “but I suppose you never know’’. Naturally eloquent and opinionated, the obvious progression to a television studio, and sitting in judgment on footballers, is unlikely to appeal to Neville. There will inevitably be calls for Neville to take his militant tendencies to the Professional Footballers’ Association on a full-time basis, standing up for players who have accidentally missed drugs tests, been lambasted by the media or warned by the Football Association for goading opposing fans. Like Dennis the Menace with a catapult, Neville has long targeted the governors, letting fly at the FA for all manner of perceived ills. “I have spent 10 years trying to have a go at the Football Association,’’ Neville told Vaughan. Some comments were particularly justified. Tirades against the slow-moving disciplinary process probably encouraged the FA to speed it up. So here’s the plan for Neville. The FA must appoint him to its main board. Continental federations are sensibly swift to give recently retired players executive powers. Fernando Hierro and Liliam Thuram have brought their wisdom to the offices of the Spanish and French FAs respectively. Inviting such a poacher as Neville to turn gamekeeper would be an inspired move by the FA. It would keep the Government quiet, following Whitehall’s desire for a breath of fresh air to blow through what it believes to be the land of the old farts. Hurricane Neville would certainly do that. It would also call Neville’s bluff. Having been such an arch-critic of the FA, questioning its decisions and claiming it was out of touch, Neville risks ridicule if he turned down the chance to reshape such an important organisation. Neville is disliked by those outside Old Trafford for his one-eyed allegiance to United and his prickly demeanour. Yet remove the red shirt and red-tinted glasses and wait for the chippiness to subside. Really listen to the substance of his words not the tetchy delivery. A lifetime member of the Grouchy Club, Neville actually talks a lot of sense. He can be the sport’s conscience, reminding everyone of the need for a powerful work ethic, of winning, of making the most of your talent (as he has himself done so doggedly). If the FA would gain from his experience and energy, so Neville might also learn that running a sport played and watched by millions from Land’s End to Wallsend is slightly more complicated than standing on a soapbox inside the home dressing room at Old Trafford. Neville might appreciate that players are role models. The sight of stars making bad tackles on the pitch and raising hackles on the terraces causes problems for those charged with teaching restraint to impressionable schoolboy footballers. Overall, tough, Neville could be a force for good at the FA. Just don’t ask him to open the new Anfield.